German border 1996 - borderwalks

Exploring the border

Thomas Kellner Germany - Bordercrossings or a view from inside out

The thought to create a complete panorama encircling the entire border of Germany as well as to examine, from the border, the essence of Germany itself, was my point of departure for these series. In pinhole photography the hole and its own border define a certain pictorial role. There the holes edge is responsible for the genesis of a picture. Like every other country, and as in pinhole photography, Germany itself is defined through its frontier, its edge. The missing lens and the borderless sharpness in front of and behind the hole in this type of photography opens an endless field in building and constructing one's own camera.

Right in the beginning I thought out everything very clear. I could not do a completely closed panorama of Germany's border. Instead I would take pictures in the same proximity to each other to get a series of single pictures that connect a rank of photographs. By opening my pinhole cameras the view outside, at the border, and across the frontier became like a view through a keyhole.- Germany itself can be seen as a camera. There is the frontier that really exists; it is surveyed, marked, and controlled. During my journey the border was always present. As I explained before, I was looking to approach the border in approximately the same intervals. By this I was able to open up various views for my cameras.

I started my twelve days journey early in the morning of the 25th of March 1996 with my old VW Golf. My first destination was Aachen in the Vest of Germany. The closer I came to the border, the bigger my tension grew. A lot of questions came to my mind - Did I pack everything I needed? Would the cameras work? ( I didn't really had time to test them, but instead did one test shot with each of them. ) Would the weather be okay? Slowly more fears came. Would it not have been better to ask for permission to take pictures of the border buildings? Hopefully my films would not be confiscated or stolen.  Every photographer knows such questions and fears when starting a new project in a new area. But after 48 hours I dropped my fears and days fell into a regular structure of working, driving, and resting. One day was like any other. I got up at 6.30 a.m., did a control check, loaded the cameras, had breakfast and then would be on the road again. It was usually around 8 o'clock, at daybreak when I would start my exposures at my first destination of the day. Most of the time was spent driving in my car between each destination point. Each day I was only able to do 5 or 6 border points. At nightfall, after my last stop, I would drive as close as possible to next mornings destination. There I would look for a hotel to stay the night.

It took me twelve days and 6000 kilometres to collect the exposures for 54 border points around my entire country. I did not only get to know the German border, but I also discovered the periphery of landscapes around my country. From earlier experiences I knew the western border but had not seen the actual changes since the European Market.- On the freeways one can still see the long and small custom buildings with huge roofs. But at the smaller border crossings one can witness the disappearance of offices and their buildings. Many of the old buildings that were once used by the border police and customs department have been broken down or are used in a completely different way. For example, in Oeding there is a veterinarian using one of the customs office. In Nordhorn the building had been used as a snack bar or fast food restaurant. At many of the old border crossings they have built resting areas for trucks and long distance travellers.

There are certain points that have fallen into a forgotten sleep. There, they dream eternally or quietly slumber awaiting the day they will be awakened for another use. On the eastern side the border is completely different. Here it is not only the German border, but that of the European Community, that of western culture. There the border crossings transmit the image of the pinhole itself. Like the rich man before the gates of heaven, thousands upon thousands of people, cars, trucks, and goods press against one another in attempt to pass through the eye of the border. There were truck jams of 30 or 40 kilometres long. The two rivers "Oder" and "Neisse" form natural borders between Germany and Poland. There at the bridges one could feel a high, aggressive tension. Despite the hard and heavy presence of border and customs police there are often 20 attempts on life a day.  Only down in the southern direction, along the border to Czechoslovakia the situation begins to calm. The landscape stretches out into deep hills and winding valleys. Now the border crossings are found on the top of these high hills or in their shady valleys therefore reducing the flow of traffic. Here the weather changes as well. Before, I had only encountered rain and a little bit of snow. But now in the mountains I was seeing up to two meters of snow. When I arrived at the Czechoslovakian border I had completely left the eastern part of Germany. More than six years after the reunification of Germany the contrasts between the East and the West are still quite present. In the cities architecture one can feel this clash of Socialism and Democracy, of the Old and of the New.

From the seas in the North to the Alps in the South I was constantly witnessing the juxtaposition of these two cultures.  The changing landscape passed by Iike an endless panorama, always accompanied by the neighbouring foreign radio stations. The consistent mixture of languages seemed to give a running commentary as I drove on. The close neighbouring countries brought an ambivalent impression to my mind. On one hand the border is a marked line, a passage from one land to another; on the other hand it is a zone of exchanging, of connections, of intermix and meeting.

Throughout my journey I encountered many people whom themselves had their own experiences with the border and its changes. in discovering their own history my impressions of the border and Germany became constantly enriched. I mostly worked with three different cameras and three different approaches in this project of the German border. I combined these in four different series:


1. Germany - View from inside out
54 images, 54 stations of a German border panorama.


2. Germany - Border crossings
52 images, views on the border, from discovering and searching walks, as a border crosser in photography.


3. Germany - Border Panoramas
14 panoramic views on the German border.


4. Germany - Polaroids


German border crossings I photographed:

Aachen- Lichtenbusch, Aachen –Dreilandenpunt, Roermond, Arcen, Goch – Autobahn, Oeding, Nordhorn, Coevorden, Bunde – Autobahn, Campen, Harlesiel, Cuxhaven – Amerikahafen, St. Peter Ording, Rosenkranz, Tonder, Ellund, Kiel – Oslokai, Puttgarden, Dassower See, Warnemuende, Zingst, Kap Arkona, Swinoujsie, Pomellen, Hohenwutzen, Frankfurt / Oder, Bademeuseln, Goerlitz, Schmilkau, Zinnwald, Reitzenhain, Oberwiesental, Schirnding, Moedlareuth, Waidhaus, Furth im Wald, Philippsreut, Passau – Achleiten, Bad Reichenhall, Kiefersfelden, Mittenwald, Fuessen, Lindau – Ziegelhaus, Konstanz – Bodensee, Konstanz – Taegerwilen, Zollamt Neuwelt, Basel – Grenzach, Breisach, Strassbourg, Neulauterbourg, Saarbruecken, Remich, Trier, Lommersweiler